The Human Condition
If scarcity underlies the human condition throughout history, then entropy underlies the cosmic condition for all time. Within this context, attention turns to innovating methods of managing well-being within existing constraints. Crime, corruption, ignorance, and poverty tend to prevail when such methods are nonexistent or fail. From human mortality to Earth’s carrying capacity, indispensable but all too forgotten in managing wellbeing is the fact of ‘limits’.
‘Race to the bottom,’ ‘arms race,’ ‘ends justify the means’, ‘vicious circle,’ and ‘perverse incentives,’ these all too familiar phrases owe their origin to game dynamics that favor ‘first movers’ or ‘corner cutters’ or ‘defectors.’ Collectively, these contingencies as a phenomenon have earned the symbolic nickname Moloch and are among the most challenging dynamics to overcome.
Pollution, environmental degradation, accelerated extinction, resource depletion, overpopulation, population collapse, and war are all symptoms of the fundamental species-level disorder of overshoot.
If new energy technologies are not innovated in the next decades, global civilization can expect a contraction of its energy resources. Society will undergo extensive simplification as infrastructure decays, transportation distances decrease, and supply chains shrink. The consequences could include food insecurity and a potential digital dark age, regressing humanity back to the traditions of history.
The prevailing response to energy contraction prompts industries to invest in acquiring minerals to build the next generation of energy technologies. In the next decades, the global system will face what might be called ‘mining mayhem’ and supply chain complexification.
Global Catastrophic Risk
Catastrophic shocks to the global system remain the persistent blindspot excluded from all sustainability models. Such shocks could follow from an object impact event, solar event, geological event, anthropogenic event (technological, nuclear war), biological event (pandemic, superbug), or unknown ‘black swans.’ Such an event striking in the next two decades will severely setback the capacity for the global system to undergo an already daunting energy and materials transition.
Growing global complexity introduces rapid change and information overload, including waves of disinformation and misinformation and many communication and sense-making challenges. The emergence of a time window for the energy, materials, and climate transition further increases the difficulty of accomplishing effective change.